Tea in the Tack Room
with KATH SMART
of Mersley Stud
William Whitaker & Mersley Chakotay jumping at CSI5* La Baule (© PSV)
Nestled deep in the Isle of Wight, springtime means the start of the busy competition show jumping season for Mersley Stud. SAMANTHA HOBDEN caught up with Head Groom, KATH SMART, to find out more about her busy life keeping a stud running smoothly with competition horses to care for.
"We specialise predominantly in breeding and producing Warmbloods for the showjumping industry"
Where can we find Mersley Stud and what are the main aims and focus of this equestrian business?
Mersley Stud is based in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the village of Newchurch on the Isle of Wight. We specialise predominantly in breeding and producing Warmbloods for the showjumping industry, with our main aim being to produce quality youngsters rather than quantity. Although our biggest focus has been to produce top horses by our stallion, Mersley Mon Capatain (Cappi), here in the UK, we have also sought to give the stud and Mersley bloodline worldwide recognition through the export of Cappi’s semen to countries like America and New Zealand.
Being Head Groom at the stud, what does your typical day look like?
My typical day starts with the routine job of feeding and mucking out, followed by exercising the horses who are in work, which can include flatwork, hacking out or loose schooling. After this, I usually get a couple of spare hours to myself to either check for any updates of what horses we have bred are up to, view show schedules or catch up on seasonal jobs such as clipping, mane pulling or rug washing; before then completing the evening yard duties of skipping out and feeding.
What are the competition plans for the horses this year?
We are currently producing one of our up and coming youngsters – Mersley Ezri – she has been competing successfully at 2* 1.35m level with rider James Whitaker over the last year so our aim for 2018 is to move her up to 1.40m, both at home and abroad with the possibility of jumping her at some 3* and 4* shows later in the season.
James Whitaker & Mersley Ezri finishing 10th in the Foxhunter Second Rounds at Wales & West (© Jumping Around)
"I knew he was destined to be a star the day I watched him jump 3 electric fences and a five-bar gate as an unbroken 3-year-old"
Who has been the star horse at Mersley Stud and why?
Mersley Chakotay – one of the first foals bred by us back in 2004. I knew he was destined to be a star the day I watched him jump 3 electric fences and a five-bar gate as an unbroken 3-year-old after deciding he’d been out in the field long enough! Some of his career highlights to date include competing and being placed at 5* shows across Europe with William Whitaker, culminating in a win at Olympia and 2nd in the 6 Bar Competition in Rome – jumping a height of 1.95m. Since then, William’s younger brother, James, has taken over the reins and his success has continued with three Grand Prix wins and an Area Trial victory in the last year alone. As one of the first horses I ever helped break in, it is safe to say that he still holds a very special place in my heart.
Breeding competition horses can be a complicated process, how does the stud ensure that top quality foals are produced?
One of the things we believe makes us stand out from the majority of studs is that we are not breeders on a massive commercial scale; we use a small number of select mares with top bloodlines and like to allow them time off in between foals, giving them a chance to enjoy life, rather than simply breeding year after year. This ensures the mare is in top condition when she is put in foal, not just physically but mentally too, which we have found increases the chances of producing a quality youngster.
When it comes to equestrian style do you spend or save?
I’m definitely a saver. In a similar vein to how we breed our horses – I prefer quality over quantity so I would rather save up to buy something a little bit more expensive that not only looks great but also stands up to the test of everyday equestrian activities.
On a day off where would we find you?
I very rarely get a day off in my line of work – the horses are my life, not just my job so the majority of my time is spent at the yard! On the odd occasion I can get time away, I love to get to shows to see our horses competing, something I hope to do more of over the next few years.
Kath riding Mersley Tombraider (Lara) - a typical chestnut mare but Kath's horse of a lifetime
As a child what did you want to be?
I knew from a very early age that I wanted to work with horses, though I think (as is the case with most little girls) my family expected me to have grown out of the ‘horsey’ phase by the time I reached my teens! This turned out not to be the case and, if anything, my love for horses has grown stronger as I have gotten older. I feel extremely fortunate that I have been able to land my dream job in a relatively short space of time.
Where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
Ideally…on a beach in Barbados! In reality, I can’t picture a life without horses and I am a great believer in the idea that those who give you the world, along with their heart and soul deserve the right to a forever home; so, alongside the continuation of promoting the Mersley Stud breed line, I would love to be running the yard as retirement home for the horses who have played a critical role in our success over the years.
James Whitaker & Mersley Chakotay competing in the World Class Development Programme U23 British Championship Final at Olympia (© Focus on Horses)
Kath with Mersley Mon Capatain who himself enjoyed an illustrious showjumping career with rider Ben Dunning
Bays or Greys?
Greys - there is just something about a good looking grey that oozes class; though they are an absolute nightmare to keep clean!
Showjumping or Dressage?
Showjumping - flatwork is an extremely important part of schooling but jumping, for me, is just so much more interesting to watch and be involved in.
Youngster or Schoolmaster?
These days, it's a Schoolmaster. There was a time when I'd get on anything but my bravery seems to have dissipated as I've gotten older and I much prefer to enjoy a quiet ride now rather than constantly having to be two steps ahead of a youngster!
Sunshine or Snow?
Sunshine, without a doubt. There is nothing better than working and being around horses on a glorious sunny day.
Gold or Silver?
Silver. I have quite a cool skin tone, which tends to suit silver more than gold; I also find it goes with almost any clothing colour and adds more of an understated touch of style to most outfits.
Champagne or Gin?
Both! Champagne is great for celebrating and who doesn't love a Gin and Tonic?! Though, in all honesty, I tend to be more of a beer kind of girl when it comes to tipple of choice!